Developing strong character traits is one of the basic principles of good storytelling and professional screenwriting. I learned this from John Truby in his excellent class Anatomy Of Story.
I’ve been thinking about how one could learn from screenwriting and apply these powerful writing techniques to the story of one’s own life. I started to research the life stories of successful filmmakers and screenwriters and discovered that they often share the same traits with other artists.
If you are relly interested in making it as a writer, director, or filmmaker, perhaps this list of essential traits is something you can use as a checklist to measure and evaluate your own chances of success.
1. It’s not a job it’s a lifestyle
If you view your filmmaking career as a job, you are on the wrong track. Your career will consume every single waking moment. Unless you have passion for what you are going, you won’t be able to do this. Your personal challenge is to juggle your dream and your personal life. Manage that properly and we will all think you are a magician.
Filmmaking also takes up a huge amount of physical and mental resources meaning your health needs to be dealt with in detail, down to what you eat for breakfast.
Slaving away with your nose to the grindstone might impress your personal trainer, but if you don’t work smart all your energy could be wasted. Knowing what you really want or knowing how someone is going to react to what you need before you spring into action is half the battle. Then get ready for the heavy lifting.
I always make this mistake, especially in the run-up to the festival. I get so involved in the programming and the website that I forget to take my eyes off the grit and grime at my feet and lift my eyes to the heavens – even just for a few minutes.
3. Don’t take things personally
Sticks and stones will hurt my bones but names will never hurt me. This nursery rhyme is packed full of truth but it’s hard to remember, especially when it seems that the world is ganging up on you. Every successful person has lots of people trying to take them down. Look at it this way: if no one is slagging you off, then you arent successful. It’s how business (and life) works.
Does this sound familiar? Recently a close friend started criticising me about the British Independent Film Awards and told me that they were becoming too corporate. Now, having founded the BIFA’s they are really close to my heart, and something that I am proud of. But I took the comments personally and before I knew it bile started to build up in my system and I fired off a text message that nearly destroyed my personal relationship with this individual. Then I had to realise the real reason this person had slagged off one of my dreams – envy! And I felt a whole lot better.
Another friend told me time after time in the early years of Raindance: “Quitters nerver win and winners never quit.”
Do you think you can achieve terrific success and manage to kill your ego? Because that is the trick that the most successful people use. And it is one of the hardest to pull off.
I meet so many filmmakers who are making their films and writing their scripts out of pure ego. I will hear them say things like: “I want to win an Oscar”, or, “This is a really cool occupation, this filmmaking thing.”
In 1975 when I first started out I was a stage hand at the Royal Court Theatre pulling ropes on a show called Teeth N’ Smiles. One of the actors was a woman by the name of Helen Mirren. She had virtually no ego. She was an actor. I was a stage hand, and that was about it. She got up to go to work, as I and the rest of the cast and crew did. It was so inspiring to realise that we each had our job and craft, and that in her eyes, we were equal human beings. That she was hugely successful was another thing, but it sat outside of ego, giving her this terrific humility that made her a joy and wonder to work with.
5. If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will
This comes in two parts:
First, you really and truly need to believe in your own abilities and know your boundaries and limitations. Limitations are not a weakness, they are simply areas you need to strengthen or negotiate.
Secondly you need to become a master in the art of self-promotion so you can convey this belief in yourself to others without looking like an ego maniac with delusions of grandeur.
I am often guilty of this myself. Despite all the kudos and accolades Raindance and the festival now receives I still often find myself on the back foot.
‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves: “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and famous?” Actually, who are you not to be?’ (Nelson Mandela)
It’s not about spending loads and loads on wardrobe or plastic surgery. It’s about presenting yourself with style and flair. The cheapest and easiest way to create a stare-inducing presence is to manage your diet and look after your body. Sounds elementary I know, but if you switch on the TV or flip through style or gossip magazines you will see page after page of people who work hard, work smart and who work their butts off – to look good.
7. Leave anyone you meet feeling better
It’s not about what you do for a person it’s how you make them feel about themselves. If you leave a person of influence bored to death you have just shot yourself in the foot. Remember it is the entertainment industry, and never forget the old maxim: “Leave ‘em wanting more.”
The more you give the more you get. It might not come back immediately, but if you give a lot you stand the potential of gaining a lot – and not necessarily what you might expect.
I believe that giving should be a part of everyone’s daily routine. And eventually, I firmly believe, you will be in a higher place with your career because of it.